History of Random Island

Random Island fits neatly into the shore of northwest Trinity Bay, being separated from the adjacent ``mainland'' by Smith Sound on the north and the Northwest Arm of Random Sound on the south and west. The roughly rectangular island cannot be circumnavigated except by small boats, as passage is blocked by a shoal (Random Bar) that runs off its northwest corner, marking the division between the two sounds. In 1952 the Hefferton Causeway was built across the Bar, connecting the Island to the Province's highway system and to the service centre for the area at Clarenville. Just off the northeast corner of Random Island lies Ireland's Eye, separated from Random Island by a passage known as the Thoroughfare.

Smith Sound and the eastern shore of Random Island were probably being frequented seasonally by fishermen of Trinity and area from the late 1700s. A few fishing families from Trinity probably settled in the early 1800s, at Thoroughfare, Rider's Harbour and Deer Harbour  on the eastern shore of the island. Communities on the shores of Smith Sound and Random Sound were settled year-round through the 1850s and 1870s, predominantly by people from the other side of Trinity Bay (most especially Hant's Harbour and Grates Cove). Again, most of these pioneer settlers had likely frequented the area for winter woods work for some years before settling.

On the south side of the island, settlement soon came to be concentrated around the best deep-water anchorage, at Hickman's Harbour qv. By 1900 Hickman's Harbour was also a centre for the prosecution of the Labrador fishery as well as for shipbuilding, and had become the major mercantile centre for the area. Smaller communities, largely centered around water-driven sawmills, were established at Robinson's Bight, Lady Cove and Weybridge . There were nine mills on the south side of the island by 1891. Inhabitants on the Smith Sound side of the island, at Petley, Britannia and Lower Lance Cove , were also engaged in the Labrador fishery and sawmilling, while others were employed by the slate quarrying business of the Currie family -- with headquarters at Britannia, although the quarry itself was across the Sound, at Nut Cove. The Nut Cove quarry was closed in 1907 (it was reopened in 1990) and a smaller slate quarry at Hickman's Harbour closed in 1910 (see SLATE). Two communities on the western end of Random Island, Elliot's Cove and Snook's Harbour, were predominantly centered around quarrying of clay for brick making, the Smith brickyard at Snook's Harbour remaining in operation until 1952. In later years shale has also been quarried on western Random Island to supply the Pelley brickyard (later Trinity Brick Products) at Milton, just across the causeway. By 1901 there were more than 1000 people living on the island, the largest community being Hickman's Harbour with a population of 232. But, many of the components of the varied economy of Random Island in the late 1800s began to unravel in the early 1900s. Slate quarrying had died out by 1910 and the Labrador fishery had begun a precipitous decline. The island had sent 19 schooners to the Labrador in 1901, but there were only seven in 1921, with the fishery dying out altogether in the 1930s. Of course, this spelled the end of Random Island shipyards and also caused a decline in sawmilling. While the inshore fishery continued to be fairly productive at Thoroughfare and Deer Harbour, the work force of other communities came largely to be employed away from Random Island, in pulpwood cutting and general labor. Some moved to Clarenville, which was becoming the major service centre for the area, while others who stayed on the island were also employed away and returned home on weekends.

Commuting to Clarenville from Random Island was facilitated by the building of the causeway in 1952, and later by upgrading of the roads system. In the 1960s it was decided not to extend the road to Deer Harbour and Thoroughfare, with the result that these communities were resettled, largely to the Clarenville/Shoal Harbour area. Beginning in 1969 the high school students of the island were bused to Clarenville, but when a new central school was opened in 1973 (between Britannia and Hickman's Harbour) parents refused to continue busing senior students, and were eventually successful in having the facility upgraded to accommodate all students. In 1986 the island had a population of just over 1500. Hickman's Harbour continued to be the largest community, with a population of 479. Apart from some fishing and sawmilling, few residents were employed on Random Island itself, more working at Clarenville or farther afield. Wilfred and Eileen (Marsh) Martin, both natives, have written two books on the history of Random Island: Random Island Pioneers (1990) and Random Island and Beyond (1991).

Rex Clarke (1969), Wendy Martin (1983), W.B.W. Martin (1990; 1991), Census (1836-1986), DA (Mar./Apr. 1983), Archives (VS 64; VS 64A; VS 64B), Newfoundland Historical Society (Random Island).

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Newfoundland and Labrador Encyclopedia  © 1997 Harry Cuff Publications Limited